Original Manuscript On Jorge Mas Canosa 1993
It will be a scene reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl's classic
documentary, Triumph of the Will: A high, breathtaking
panorama of the masses, a rippling ocean of people, millions packed
into Havana's Plaza de la Revolución roaring waves of
adulation. And there he will be, poised high on the parapet
bordering the massive marble statue of José Martí, the
very spot from which Fidel Castro once gave his interminable
orations. From a distance, he is a Nixonian figure -- the same
receding hairline, square jaw, swarthy jowls, brush brows over dark,
darting eyes. But he is not the passé politician, he is
the new El Libertador from Miami. He smiles smugly, raises his
arms and acknowledges the thunder of acclamation. The crowd's
howling increases, reaching a crescendo of happy hysteria in a frenzied
Veeeva El Hey-Fay Max-eee-mo!
Veeeva El Hey-Fay Max-eee-mo!"
Now, see, that's what gets Jorge Mas Canosa so upset. That is
misinformation. It is the kind of misinformation that most likely
is generated by Fidel Castro himself. How many times now has
Jorge Mas Canosa said he does not want to be the next leader of
Cuba? Hundreds...well, maybe dozens...of times. Counting,
that is, from after the time he said he wouldn't mind being the next
leader of Cuba. Which was before he said he would not rule it out
if the people wanted him. At any rate, that is misinformation and
Jorge Mas Canosa knew I would do it to him. He never trusted me.
"It's not that I don't trust you," he told me one day after I had again
cornered him, this time as he worked his way through a backslapping
crowd of compatriots in Miami's Omni Hotel ballroom, all congratulating
him for his inspirational oration at the Cuban Independence Day
luncheon. I had cornered him at a number of public functions over
a two week period and, although each time he turned away my request to
spend some time with him, we had gotten friendly on a superficial level.
"How are you, my friend!" he said this time, shaking my hand vigorously when I was pushed into him.
"I need to spend some time with you," I said, blocking his way.
"I need to capture the essence of your character and the passion of
your mission in life."
He paused and looked up at me for a moment, as if deciding whether he would trust me.
"It is not that I don't trust you," Jorge Mas said, "but you are a
journalist. I know what you will do. You will go to your
computer and you will pull up your Nexus and you will get all the
misinformation that has been printed about me in the past. Then
you will go talk with some of my enemies and they will give you
additional misinformation. Then you will write your story and it
will add to the misinformation that is out there about me."
I try to make the obvious point, that I will not know what he considers misinformation unless I talk with him.
No, he shakes his head, clearly thinking: This gringo no entiende what the hell I'm trying to tell him.
"Well, O.K.," he says. "Here's what you can do. You go out
there and gather all the misinformation that is out there about me and
write your story. Then you can bring it to me and we'll see."
He turns and permits himself to be engulfed by the crowd. Later,
he never returns my telephone calls when I try to tell him that I have
gone out there and gathered three full boxes of misinformation. I
want to ask him now why so much of it checks out.
A brief quiz to provide a perspective:
Name the one man who has had, over the last three decades, the most
influence in shaping the United States government's foreign policy
toward Latin America.
Right, you win the cigarro gigante! Por supuesto, es
Fidel. Ever since he came to power 33 years ago, the U.S.
government's perception of the Castro threat has governed this
country's views and actions in both Central and South America.
From the Bay of Pigs to Chile to Granada to Panama, the U.S. has spent
hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives attempting to
block what it defined as Castro's attempts to export Communism.
Part two of the quiz:
Name the one man who has, over the last two decades, most influenced
the U.S. government's perception of Castro and, in fact, has
systematically injected steroidal doses of paranoia into that
Chances are, unless you live in Miami, are among Washington's policy
insiders or have a job that regularly puts your eyeball to the key hole
at the White House, you haven't a clue. Few Americans have ever
heard of Jorge Mas Canosa. Yet if it were up to him -- and
his wealthy circle of Cuban-American exiles with whom the Reagan and
Bush administrations have had a symbiotic relationship -- Mas would be
Cuba's next Numero Uno Hombre.
Jorge Mas, at 53, is now the most politically significant Cuban in the
United States. He is viewed by key government officials as the
leader of 1.2 million Cubans in exile in the United States. His
influence is unmatched in both the congressional and executive branches
of the U.S. government. He is a founder and the chairman of the
Cuban American National Foundation, a tax-exempt "educational"
association with more than a hundred wealthy directors and trustees who
annually pay "dues" of anywhere from $5000 to $50,000 each. (A few
contribute more.) Mas also controls the Foundation's lobbying
arm, the Cuban American Foundation, as well as its PAC, the Free Cuba
Committee. Together they are the single most effective
legislative leveraging force in Washington. Says former Senate
Foreign Affairs staffer Barry Sklar: "The Israeli lobby could
take lessons from CANF." That's ironic because the Cuban exile
lobby was originally modeled on the Israeli design.
Recently, the name of Jorge Mas Canosa has begun to pop up outside the
Washington- Miami loop. Within the last several months, largely
as a result of the publicity Mas has generated in pushing for a tighter
economic embargo of Cuba -- and then getting into a very public battle
with The Miami Herald about it -- articles have appeared about him in a
few major newspapers and at least one news magazine. Network
television is weighing in with a segment about Mas on 60 Minutes this
fall. Jorge Mas claims he has not been happy with all of the
coverage. A large part of it, he says, is misinformation.
That is why he says he stopped cooperating with the media.
But Jorge Mas knows better. Although he complains about the
critical comments and the misinformation, Mas knows he has coopted the
media. With sophisticated information control and personal
persuasive abilities, he has maneuvered the media into fostering the
myth he cultivates: That he is simply an example of what his
friend George Bush calls "the Cuban miracle in America." He is a
golden chip in the grand mosaic of exile success stories, a poor
immigrant who starts as a dishwasher, works his ass off as a milkman
and shoe salesman, gets a few breaks and, thanks to the blessing of the
free enterprise system, becomes a multimillionaire contractor.
Only with Mas the myth goes further: He takes his deep Cuban
patriotism, his passionate resolve to bring democracy and freedom to
his homeland, and meshes them into the good old American way of doing
politics -- with money and the power of his Cuban-American
constituency. The criticism -- the misinformation -- has focused
on his overzealousness, his political and financial machinations, his
affinity for using money muscle to bend the system to his will.
Still, the myth provides a shadow which helps obscure him:
Sure, Mas carries clout in Washington and knows the congressional
pressure points better than most Beltway insiders, but he's only a
single-issue Miami Cuban. He may play in the Big Leagues, but
he's no threat to the game as long as he remains in the right-field
But the myth does not explain the true roots and reach of Jorge Mas'
power. It does not explain what enables him to consort with world
leaders and make foreign policy deals as if he were an autonomous
subsidiary of the U.S. State Department. It does not explain his
ability to manipulate U.S. government agencies, to circumvent
bureaucratic regulations, to have standing administrative policies
modified to his benefit. It does not reveal what induces both the
present and the previous President of the United States to immediately
react to his beckonings and why George Bush, especially, handles Mas
with singular sensitivity, demonstrably willing to do embarrassing
public flips on issues of importance to Mas.
The myth is a mask. It does not place Mas in the proper
historical context. It does not reveal the records beneath the
résumé, the tracks of his covert associations and his
role in the web of clandestine schemes entwined in United States policy
in Latin America for the last three decades. The myth does not
explain why so many are so fearful of Jorge Mas Canosa. The myth
does not account for those special bonds from which his power and
influence now radiate. The myth is the misinformation.
Compared with, say, Millie, Jorge Mas hasn't gotten much national
recognition considering how close he has been to the epicenter of
political power in America. But somewhere in The Miami Herald's
photo files there's a beautiful shot that illustrates something about
his relationships at the highest levels. It was taken a few years
ago when ex-President Ronald Reagan snapped from a nap and answered a
call from Mas to attend a major Foundation-sponsored rally at Miami's
Orange Bowl. Reagan, waiving his hefty ex- Presidential
appearance fee, arrived in his white guayabera and set the crowd of
20,000 Cuban exiles aglow with passionate rhetoric. ("Test yourself in
a vote!" the Ol' Gipper shouted directly at Fidel, pressing his combat
fatigues just 250 miles away in Havana. "Let the voices of the
people be heard!") The exiles cheered wildly and shook their "We
Love You, Ron!" signs. Then, later, Mas reminded the crowd of
Ronald Reagan's long fight against Communism's evil empire and, as a
token of his appreciation, handed Reagan a pair of silk boxing shorts
with the lovingly embroidered inscription: "Reagan World
Champ." The ex- President smiled proudly and held his new shorts
high as photographers snapped away. Jorge Mas, the man who
brought about that historic moment, beamed. He knew that it was a
picture -- Ronald Reagan waving his shorts in a gesture of unity with
the Cuban exiles -- that would make Fidel very upset, perhaps even
drive him to an irrational act. That alone was worth the price of
It will take a few flashbacks -- History in the Making! -- to
comprehend the nature of Jorge Mas' power in Washington and what
appears to be his extraordinary proficiency at exploiting it:
It's 1981: ....Jorge Mas jumps on an early flight to Washington
shortly after receiving his first bright idea as chairman of the newly
formed Cuban American National Foundation. Mas declares that the
Cuban exiles need their own private radio station, funded by the U.S.
government, to break Fidel Castro's "information monopoly." He is
given little chance of success. First, because there is no
"information monopoly" in Cuba. Cubans regularly listen to Miami
radio, including its many stridently anti-Castro Spanish language
stations. Second, because the Voice of America is doing an
effective job of providing Cubans with objective news reports about
what is happening both in and outside of Cuba and other Communist
countries. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut emerges from a
meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee and says: "No matter
how thin you slice it, Radio Marti is still baloney. This hearing
alone is lionizing Castro, making him larger than life. We are
playing right into his hands."
.....Mas is also facing opposition from the State Department's U.S.
Interest Section in Havana. Section Chief Wayne Smith claims that
Radio Marti would be an unnecessary provocation that might force Castro
to cancel the recent immigration accord. Under that, Castro has
agreed to release 3000 political prisoners and allow the orderly
emigration of 20,000 Cubans to the United States annually. "Radio
Marti should be rejected on its own merits," says Smith.
.....Two years later: At the Miami headquarters of the Cuban
American National Foundation corks are popping from bottles of Moet
& Chandon champagne as Jorge Mas and his wealthy associates
celebrate the passage of the Radio Marti legislation. In
Havana, Wayne Smith has resigned his post and Castro has canceled
the immigration accord. Senator Paula Hawkins, the Florida
Republican from Disney World, staunch loyalist of the Reagan
administration and Mas' chief ball carrier on the Marti bill,
telephones her congratulations to Foundation members. In the
House, Florida Democrat Dante Fascell, long considered a liberal but
closely aligned with Jorge Mas since his district turned Cuban and Mas'
PAC began handing him big money, gives Mas complete credit for Radio
Marti. Says Mas modestly: "Ronald Reagan was the
star. But we deserve an Oscar for the best supporting role."
.....Radio Marti, placed under the U.S. Information Agency as a
political compromise, winds up as an independent operation with its own
budget. Jorge Mas is named chairman of its advisory board.
Over the years it grows to a bureaucracy that consumes as much as $18
million in U.S. taxpayer dollars annually.
It's 1984: ....Jorge Mas is vacationing in Key West. It is
a beautiful Sunday morning but Mas cannot enjoy the sunshine or the
verdant tropical splendor because he is thinking of Castro and the
40,000 troops he has sent to Africa to fight with the Marxian
government in Angola. Suddenly, he springs from the chaise,
blinks against the sun's brightness and declares he has an idea:
Why not repeal the Clark Amendment! That is the 1976 law that
prohibits the U.S. from funding Angola insurgents. He hops into
his bullet-proof Mercedes and tells Irma, his wife, that he is going
back to Miami to "see a man." On the way, he stops by to
pick up his Foundation buddy, Tony Costa, owner of a $15 million
wholesale plant business. They knock on the door of a Miami
high-rise and an old man with a hearing aid and thick glasses answers
the door. "We need your help to repeal the Clark Amendment," says
Mas. The old man points to a plastic world on his desk and says
in his deep Southern drawl, "Show me where Angola is and 'splain me
what it's all about." And so Congressman Claude Pepper, another
Democratic liberal who received big contributions from Mas and his PAC,
becomes a sponsor of the bill that repeals the Clark Amendment.
President Reagan immediately authorizes $30 million in covert funds to
be sent to Angola rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. In gratitude,
Savimbi sends Mas a full-sized replica of an AK-47 carved out of ivory.
It's 1982: ....President Reagan declares that what this country
ought to do is give away money to private organizations promoting
democracy abroad. A year later, Jorge Mas suggests the idea to
his favorite Democrat in Congress, Dante Fascell, now the powerful
chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Fascell
introduces a bill creating the National Endowment for Democracy.
Fascell successfully guides the controversial N.E.D. bill through a
field of heavy fire and becomes the first chairman of its board of
directors. The law creating the Endowment specifically prohibits
the use of any portion of the Federal grant for "lobbying or propaganda
which is directed at influencing public policy decisions of the
Government of the United States." One of the first grants
of the National Endowment for Democracy goes to the Cuban American
National Foundation. In 1988, John Nichols, a professor at Penn
State, studies N.E.D. documents and discovers that the Foundation has
received a total of $390,000 in Federal funds from the Endowment.
He also discovers that the amount is almost identical to the amount
that Jorge Mas's Free Cuba PAC has reported in contributions and
distributed to politicians helping the Foundation push anti-Castro
legislation. What goes around comes around: In 1991, the
National Endowment for Democracy gave a record $462,132 to seven
anti-Cuba projects, a 257 percent increase over its 1990 funding.
It brings the total to over $1 million of taxpayers' money funneled
through the N.E.D. for projects or persons connected with the Cuban
American National Foundation. The N.E.D.'s president is Carl
Gershman, former aide to Jeane Kirkpatrick when she was U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick, who has been a keynote
speaker at Cuban American National Foundation functions, is a friend
and onetime business associate of Jorge Mas.
It's 1987: ....Jorge Mas explodes with yet another sensational
idea: If the U.S. government can pick up the hefty tab for Radio
Marti, why not a TV Marti! President-elect Bush gives him White
House backing. There are some technical problems, this the most
serious: While Radio Marti operates on an AM frequency assigned
by international agreement, TV Marti would illegally infringe on Cuba's
telecasting sovereignty. A powerful group of American
broadcasting executives oppose the idea for fear that Castro could
retaliate by jamming stations all over the Midwest. Mas pulls a
fast one. He gets his close friend, Florida Senator (now
Governor) Lawton Chiles to introduce legislation to create TV Marti and
then, with an assist from President Bush's White House strategists,
secures a 90-day "trial" appropriation of $7.5 million without either
the House Foreign Affairs or the Senate Foreign Relations committees
holding hearings on the plan. There are a few glitches during the
trial period: Tethered over the Florida Keys, TV Marti's
million-dollar transmission relay balloon, dubbed Fat Albert, breaks
away and gets lost in the Everglades. When Fat Albert is found
and re-tethered, Castro immediately jams every telecast TV Marti
attempts. The U.S. Public Interests Section in Havana reports it
cannot find anyone in Cuba who has seen TV Marti. President Bush
declares the trial period a success. In March of 1990, TV Marti
begins operating with a $16 million annual budget. By 1992, the
budget request is increased to $18.1 million. It doesn't matter
to Jorge Mas that TV Marti isn't being seen. "The TV signal will
be kept on the air," he announces. "Even if Castro jams the
signal 100 percent, we will still keep the pressure on."
One side effect: In retaliation, Castro begins jamming Radio
Marti's AM signal, which he had previously permitted to broadcast
throughout Cuba. As a result, Radio Marti must resort to a
short-wave band, in direct competition with the Cuban American National
Foundation's own short-wave station, La Voz de la Fundación,
which has no USIA restrictions against broadcasting blatant propaganda,
inciting acts of insurrection and regularly lauding Jorge Mas as the
Numero Uno fighter for Cuba's freedom.
Last January....Three members of an exile guerilla group called
"Commandos L," organized by Tony Cuesta and once financially supported
by Mas, attempt to infiltrate Cuba and are captured. The Miami
Herald pressures the U.S. State Department to clarify its enforcement
policy of the Neutrality Act prohibiting the use of U.S. territory to
prepare or promote violence in Cuba. Three officials re-affirm
the government's commitment to enforcing the act and tell the Herald
that the State Department has a policy of informing Cuban officials of
any potential raids against their country. Mas blows his
top. Who the hell is the U.S. Government to fink to Castro about
Cuban exile plots? Mas calls the President's son, Jeb Bush, who
lives in Miami and is in business with several wealthy directors of the
Cuban American National Foundation. Young Bush goes on a local
radio interview show and denies his father's administration has a
policy of cooperating with Cuba. Two days later the Herald gets a
call direct from Bernard Aronson, the assistant Secretary of State who
has been an honored guest at Foundation functions. Aronson tells
the Herald that the officials had "overstated" the State Department's
policy, that there was no on-going policy of cooperating with the
Castro regime. One month later, President Bush himself pens an
op-ed "Opinion" piece for the Herald, the first specifically written
for one newspaper, reassuring Miami's Cuban exiles that his
administration would never negotiate with Castro's government.
Last June: ....A Federal judge in New York castigates the Bush
Administration for its "particularly hypocritical" policy of returning
thousands of Haitian refugees to "the jaws of political persecution,
terror, death and uncertainty...." The month before, hundreds of
Cuban American National Foundation members gathered in Dade County
Auditorium cheered when Clara del Valle, the Foundation's Exodus
Program director, announced that 300 Cubans now in Russia and 150
others in Peru will receive U.S. visas. That brings the total to
8500 Cubans -- most of whom have not been living in discomfort or even
without their freedom in a third country -- who have been admitted to
the U.S. under the Exodus Program. It is a special arrangement
that Jorge Mas and the Foundation have made with the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service. It gives Mas his own immigration
program, and a constant flow of new political loyalists. The
Foundation is permitted to bring Cubans residing in another country
into the U.S. as permanent residents, as long as their trip is
sponsored and two years of health insurance is paid in advance.
It is the only such arrangement the government agency has with a
private organization. The government even gives the Foundation
financial aid for it. Last year, the State Department awarded a
$1.7 million grant to the Foundation for the Exodus project.
Although a social program, it is politically sacrosanct. When
Nancy Wittenberg, director of Florida's refugee assistance program,
issued a report accusing the Foundation of supplying illegal health
insurance and "atrocious" services to the Cuban refugees it brings in,
Jorge Mas and his associates reacted indignantly. "It's a bunch
of shit," said Foundation director Domingo Moreira. They then
traveled to Tallahassee to see Wittenberg's boss, Governor Lawton
Chiles who, when he was a U.S. Senator, received major PAC support from
Mas. Two days later, Wittenberg issued a letter regretting her
"error" and apologized to the Foundation for the "misunderstanding."
These days, Jorge Mas is feeling his garbanzos. The young
immigrant who once scraped leftovers from the dirty dishes at Miami
Beach's Fontainebleau is romping around the world as international
emissary for the Let's-Stick-It-To-Castro-Now crusade. More
importantly, his portfolio carries an Unofficially Approved U.S.
Government sticker which opens doors. At the first crack of the
Soviet Union's perestroika, even before Gorbachev stepped aside, he
hustled off to Moscow to advise the Soviet leader to cut off military
aid to Cuba. Mas was ready to deal. Said one report:
"Mas Canosa has told Soviet officials that he can help them obtain U.S.
aid, but only after they sever their alliance with Cuba."
El tiene chutzpah? Mas had only begun: In Czechoslovakia,
he got Václav Havel to end Prague's diplomatic service for Cuba
in exchange for promoting business deals with Mas' wealthy capitalist
friends in Florida. In Lisbon, he successfully urged
Portugese chief of state Mario Soares to publicly call Fidel a
"dinosaur." In Budapest, he got the leader of Hungary's
Parliament to sign a statement of solidarity with the Cuban American
Foundation's efforts to overthrow Castro. In Buenas Aires, he
coaxed Argentine President Carlos Menem to record an anti-Castro
message for broadcast over the Foundation's radio service to Cuba.
Although Mas comes off as an ambassador for his own
government-in-exile, the substance of what he accomplishes on his
foreign rounds is less important than the publicity gushers of
anti-Castro sentiment generated. Mas' primary goal is to
constantly rile Fidel.
Among what Mas touts as his more significant accomplishments, for
instance, is establishing a personal relationship with Russian leader
Boris Yeltsin. He did it in 1989 when Yeltsin took his first tour
of the U.S. Mas had the Russian political renegade invited to the
University of Miami for a seminar and party. He then buttered him
well. "Gorbachev is a man of the past," declared Mas.
"Boris Yeltsin is the man of the day, the man of the hour."
Mas' hospitality paid off. Immediately after Yeltsin survived the
coup attempt which enabled him to consolidate his power in Russia,
Jorge Mas hustled off to Moscow. Mas soon announced that the
Cuban American National Foundation was authorized to open an office
there. The Foundation needed an office in Moscow as much as it
needed one in Bora Bora, but for Mas it was a propaganda coup.
And, more important, it had to piss off Fidel.
Quién es este hombre magnífico and where the hell did he
come from? The story of Jorge Mas' climb to international
diplomatic renown mixes facts with his self-polished myth:
After years of activity in the anti-Castro movement, including
participation at the Bay of Pigs, Jorge Mas decided in the late '60s to
take a respite from fighting Fidel, to settle down and make a better
living for his wife and young sons. With a loan from an exile
banker buddie, he acquired a construction firm, got a major contract to
lay cable for Southern Bell and, by the late '70s, was worth at least
$9 million. (His firm, Church & Tower, is now a $62 million
business with about 400 employees.) He bought a sprawling,
Spanish-style mansion south of Miami with high walls, towering Royal
palms, a tear-drop swimming pool. He drove a Mercedes, had a box
seat at the Dolphins games, took his family skiing at Vail. He
had become a very successful capitalist and began to itch with the
power that came with that success. In Miami, that power had its
own special twist.
Writer Joan Dideon came to Miami early in the '80s to write her book
about this "rich and wicked tropical boomtown," this new
Casablanca, this cool city of hot drugs and pink neon and Miami Vice
fantasies. Instead she found a deeper, more submerged reality and
saw as an outsider what those who had ruled Miami for so long couldn't
see. The Cubans had taken over. By that time, Jorge Mas was
establishing himself as a new Cuban American force in Washington --
even though he was still little known among Americans in his hometown
of Miami. Dideon marveled at a description in a 1983 Herald
Sunday magazine piece about ten prominent local Cubans, one of whom was
Jorge Mas: "He is an advisor to U.S. Senators, a confidant of
federal bureaucrats, a lobbyist for anti-Castro U.S. policies, a near
unknown in Miami. When his political group sponsored a luncheon
speech in Miami by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, almost none
of the American business leaders attending had ever heard of their
That's what actually enabled Mas to quickly climb to the
majors: The Cubans had taken over the new Miami and the old
Miami didn't know it. The Herald was still attributing power to
the "Non-Group," a tight clique of Old Money Anglo executives who
headed the city's major financial, cultural and political
establishments -- including The Miami Herald. In reality, the
power had slipped to a group of wealthy Cuban exiles who had risen to
success not by assimilation and community contribution but by loyalty
to one another. It was that priority to personal loyalty that
Americans found -- and still find -- so difficult to understand in the
Latin culture. Yet it was Latin loyalty that enabled Miami's
Cubans to knock out some of the town's biggest corporate players.
Years later, in discussing the diminishing role of a large Anglo
construction firm in Miami's development, Mas explained it: "It
has been very difficult for it to compete with the Cuban builder who
has 10 acres and a network with other Cuban contractors. The big
companies couldn't compete with the network I developed with my fellow
Cubans. I was able to put together a team of my peers. I
had to. Nobody gives power away."
It is part of the myth -- a valid if ironic part of it -- that Mas
energized his Cuban network of wealthy peers, among whom the Latin
trait of personal loyalty is far more important than political
ideology, to build the Cuban American National Foundation into an
organization that grabbed power in Washington with the most immoderate
and uncompromising form of political ideology.
Jorge Mas is a master at creating images. The image he created of
himself early on was that of the little guy fighting the mighty
bureaucracy on behalf of freedom and justice for Cuba.
Congressional staffers called him the "Lone Ranger," he once told a
reporter, "because I was always walking all those halls by myself,
trying to sneak into the office of some congressman or senator."
Mas pictured himself to the media then as a self-appointed, one-man,
Cuban-liberation lobby. "I'd write letters to 50 congressmen and
senators, telling them when I was coming," he said, "and I'd always get
six or seven answers telling me to come and see them at such-and- such
a time." This, Mas said, is how he developed his contacts.
Oddly enough, no one questioned how he so quickly parlayed his contacts
to the highest levels of government. By 1983, President Ronald
Reagan himself responded to Mas' invitation to speak at a Cuban
Independence Day rally in Miami. Later, Vice President George
Bush accepted a similar invitation.
Mas claimed his role as a lobbyist had been preceded by a change in his
philosophy about the best way to fight Fidel Castro. He had come
to the realization that exile military action and guerilla warfare had
not worked. "We had to stop commando raids and concentrate on
influencing public opinion and governments," he said. La Causa
was alive but now it was not going to be fought in the swamps of Cuba
by exiles in fatigues, but in the corridors of the Capitol by wealthy
Cubans in creased business suits. "La batalla de
Washington," Mas called it. "We are playing by the American
rules of the game."
And that, too, is a part of the myth that holds some reality. The
American rules of the game required political payoffs. The Cuban
American National Foundation, both through its members as private
individuals and through its PAC, began seeding its financial support in
exactly the right places, including at the top. When the 1984
Reagan campaign was forced to reject a $5000 contribution from the new
Cuban exile political group after critics charged that federal election
rules had been violated, Mas and his wealthy friends then handed Reagan
$200,000 as individuals. "Some of us got together and at the
level of simple citizens raised the money," explained Mas.
Money helped, but from the start the Foundation's success was imprinted
with the steam rolling style of Jorge Mas himself. Mas is a
master of confrontation. Every individual meeting, casual or
formal, friendly or not, is a fully attentive challenge. Speaking
or listening, he fixes an individual with an unwavering gaze. He
is warm to those who support him, vindictive towards those who oppose
him. He calls it a Cuban trait. ("We are very loyal and grateful
people. We never forget our friends and always remember our
enemies.") He never disguises his ego, never reveals a
crack in his self-confidence. He's articulate, has a
sophisticated English vocabulary, but hangs on to an accent. He's
a diminutive man with pale, delicate hands (he fights a nail-biting
habit), but on the rostrum he looms large. Like his nemesis
Castro, Mas is a tireless, extemporaneous speaker. He jabs the
air with his forefinger, thrusts out his chin on points of
defiance. The veins in his neck bulge with intensity, beads of
sweat appear on his upper lip. He swivels, bobs and moves like a
stand-up puncher. An occasional tick of his head and right
shoulder betrays the edgy nerves of a fighter who has fought many a
battle, but there's still a focused intensity that conveys his
unremitting passion for the mission.
From the beginning, there was no mistaking where Jorge Mas and the
Foundation stood on the Cuba issue: Right side of the hard
line. Shortly after CANF opened its Washington office with five
full-time staffers in a modern red-brick building overlooking the
Potomac, it placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post with this big
headline: "SAY IT ISN'T SO, PRESIDENT REAGAN. NO DEALS WITH
Say what? Was Reagan even thinking of dealing with Castro?
Of course not. But the tact revealed the strategy that Mas would
use in every move to come, strategy that utilized his expertise in
sophisticated propaganda ploys. The ad fired the first shot in
the new Foundation's war against Castro. More, it was a
reflection of Mas' aggressive, pugnacious approach. And -- what
only a few insiders knew at the time -- it was an indication of Mas'
collusive links to the White House.
La battalia de Washington was underway. It didn't take long for
Washington to lose. Mas and the Foundation pulled off an
incredible series of legislative victories. Almost all involved
large amounts of tax-payer dollars poured into programs of dubious
national interest and none dealing with the country's most pressing
domestic priorities. Since 1981, more than $160 million has been
funneled into the Foundation's anti-Cuba projects by the U.S.
Congress. And it wasn't because the threat from Fidel was
After the Cuban Missile Crisis of December, 1962, when Soviet Premier
Khruschev agreed to remove Cuba's nuclear threat and, in return,
President Kennedy agreed to end the secret war being waged by the CIA
and the Cuban exiles against Castro, the island faded as an American
security concern. But not as a political one. It remained a
symbol of rebellion against the American capitalistic system.
Like a feisty miniature chihuahua defiantly yipping at an enormous,
haughty lion gorging himself on a fat carcass, it was occasionally
annoying but hardly a threat to the big cat. Yet for more than a
score of years in Washington, Jorge Mas has devoted himself to
carefully constructing awesome scenarios of the chihuahua's potential
danger. And he knows, even now, that damn dog don't hunt.
Although he himself was nurtured in Reagan's Republican nest, Mas has
grown powerful enough on his own to declare that a politician's stand
on Cuban issues, not political affiliation, determines Foundation
support. In a recent Free Cuba PAC report to the Federal Election
Commission, those receiving contributions included many a politician
with few Cuban exiles in their districts, but every one is on a
Congressional committee considering legislation involving Cuban issues.
There is a unique dynamic involved in all this which Mas has been
shrewd enough to exploit. It's based on this: Most members
of the U.S. Congress don't give a damn about Cuban issues. There
are very few, if any, districts in this country where a congressman is
going to lose votes because he took a stand against Castro. So,
as a lobbyist or PAC contributor, it's easy to persuade a congressman
that it could be in his interest to vote against Castro. No
downside to it, and the upside could be green.
Mas has also played hard ball. One of his regular opponents was
Connecticut Republican Senator Lowell Weiker who, besides opening a
personal dialogue with Castro, would invariably oppose legislation
backed by the Cuban American National Foundation. When Democrat
Joe Lieberman ran against Weiker in 1988, he suddenly found himself the
recipient of support from some wealthy Cuban Americans as well as Mas'
PAC. Weiker lost.
Despite a denial from Rhode Island's Democratic Senator Claiborne Pell
that he got totally turned around by pressure from Mas, his case is
cited in Washington's lobbying circles as classic. Six-term
Senator Pell had been consistently critical of the Cuban embargo,
opposed to Radio Marti and repeatedly called for normalization of
relations with Cuba. Two years after Weiker went down to defeat
with the help of the Cuban American National Foundation, Pell was
facing the toughest re-election challenge he had ever had. At the
time, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also
happened to be opposing an amendment pushed by Florida's Connie Mack
which would have tightened the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
Then, according to a legislative insider, "It was made clear to Pell
that if he continued his opposition he would be the next target of the
Cuban American National Foundation's efforts." Pell was invited
to Miami to sit down with Jorge Mas. Upon his return to
Washington, Pell announced he was switching his stand on the
amendment. "It was a very ignoble surrender," recalls a
former associate of Mas who remembers the tough times Pell used to give
the Foundation on Cuban issues. No more. Pell had been told
for whom the bells might toll.
"I now see Mas as a very unique character," says ex-diplomat Wayne
Smith who, since his retirement, has followed the Cuban exile's actions
closely. "In a way he's a credit to the American way. This
guy has assimilated the American political system better than anyone
else. He really knows how to use it. He knows who to
intimidate, who to buy and how to make it work in the most underhanded
ways possible. He's head and shoulders above every other
politician in terms of being effective. I think he's also
sinister. I don't think he understands democracy any more than
That's a rap Jorge Mas has heard before. It is
misinformation. No one has ever blamed Jorge Mas for the
score of bombs that have exploded over the years in Miami in or under
or around the cars and businesses of individuals who have disagreed
with the political philosophy of the Cuban American National
Foundation. Mas has been accused of promoting and arousing other
hotheads to action, but he has never been accused of any violence
himself. (Except by his brother Ricardo, who once said that Mas
beat the hell out of him and took his car. Mas had to pay Ricardo
$245,000 for that. Mas was later ordered to pay Ricardo another
$1.2 million for another action when he wrote libelous letters to
Ricardo's potential business clients. But Ricardo was never
Mas is well aware, however, that a part of his power base in Washington
rests on the illusion that he represents the intractable hard-line
anti-Castro attitude of most Cuban exiles. It also rests on the
image that he is in control of the Cuban exile community, he is the
strongman, the caudillo. Mas snaps at every opportunity to
reinforce both the illusion and the image.
The setting is usually Miami, but early this year Mas saw a chance to
take his muscle show to the Big Apple. It was un éxito
grande! He managed to rally some 15,000 anti- Castro
demonstrators -- 4000 of whom had come up with Mas from Miami --
against a rally sponsored by a peace group calling for opening
relations with Cuba. He intimidated some big show biz types,
including Harry Belafonte, Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, into not showing
up to support the peace group. New York City was forced to pay
700 police officers overtime to keep the peace and confrontations were
minimal: A few punches were thrown, one guy got clubbed in the
head. "We oppose violence," Mas shouted to a reporter as he led
the mass of protesters along West 42nd Street. "But we also support any
person's right to engage in any action he thinks necessary to get
Except, of course, if that person wants to deal with Castro.
Even on a clear day, you won't see New York from the top of Capitol
Hill, but when Mas produces massive protest demonstrations like the one
in Manhattan, the message is clear to many a politician: Don't
mess with Mas.
Says Jorge Mas: "I laugh at the image of Jorge Mas who crushes every adversary."
It isn't the image of Jorge Mas that his critics fear, it's the reality
of Mas' powerful political connections. He's been quick to use
those connections against those who are not faithful to his cause or
appear a threat to his personal ambitions.
The case of Jerry Scott, a 51-year-old Foreign Service veteran and
public affairs officer in the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, is a
dramatic example of what happens to someone who gets on Mas' shit
list. As the point man for the State Department's human rights
efforts in Cuba, Scott knew most of the human rights activists and
dissidents on the island. Mas was delighted with Scott when he
helped Ricardo Bofill, a former professor of Marxism and a leading
dissident, get to the United States. Bofill was put on the
Foundation's payroll. Left behind as one of Cuba's most outspoken
dissidents was Elizardo Sánchez, who runs the Cuban Commission
for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. He has spent more
than eight years in a Castro prison, much of it in solitary
confinement. Yet Sánchez remains a socialist and wants to
see Washington open a dialogue with Castro. Jorge Mas despises
him for that and, because Sánchez is one of the most prominent
dissidents inside Cuba, Mas views him as a possible threat to future
goals. (Largely because of that, Radio Martí has virtually
ignored Sánchez.) When Jerry Scott befriended
Sánchez, he earned Mas' animosity.
"....and...we always remember our enemies..."
On May 5th, 1989, a pack of well-armed U.S. Customs agents rammed
through the door of Ramón Cernuda's luxury apartment overlooking
Biscayne Bay. No, it was not a drug bust. It was an art
bust. The agents confiscated 40 paintings by Nicolas
Guillén, a dissident Cuban artist. Cernuda was charged
under the 1963 Trading With the Enemy Act. He could have been
fined $250,000 and sent to prison for ten years. Named as
conspiring with Cernuda to smuggle in the illegal art was Foreign
Service officer Jerry Scott.
Scott had bought the paintings largely as a humanitarian gesture from
Guillén for about $300. A talented documentary film
artist, Guillén had spent more than six years in prison in Cuba.
(Once, to footage of Castro climbing a mountain, Guillén had
added a music track of the song "The Fool on the Hill.") When
Scott met him, Guillén was a broken man, selling the last of his
furniture to support himself and his 81-year-old mother. He
couldn't afford canvas, he painted on poster paper with homemade
pigments and tools.
If Scott was a smuggler, he was a reckless one. He declared the
paintings to Customs in Miami and informed both the State Department
and his bosses at the U.S. Information Agency. When Cernuda got
them, he wrote the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury
Department for authorization to exhibit them and enclosed Jerry Scott's
card to confirm original acquisition.
What made the Federal art bust seemingly bizarre was that this was the
first time since the trade embargo against Cuba 26 years prior that the
U.S. government had seized any paintings as contraband, although such
national auction houses as Sotheby's and Christie's had been selling
post-embargo Cuban artwork for years.
Of course, to Miami's Cuban exiles, the bust wasn't at all
bizarre. It was business as usual. Jorge Mas'
business. Jerry Scott had earned Mas' wrath, but Ramón
Cernuda was considered an absolute enemy. Not only was he the
U.S. representative of Sánchez's human rights group, he was the
leader of a group of young wealthy exiles who urged a softer line
against Castro and were challenging the Foundation's claim to speak for
the exile community.
The Cernuda raid had come shortly after President Bush had appointed
Dexter Lehtinen as U.S. Attorney. It was Lehtinen who ordered the
art bust. It was Lehtinen who held a press conference and
heralded the seizure, as one reporter put it, "as if he had just
apprehended the leader of the Medillín drug cartel."
Lehtinen played the role of Mr. Justice Department simply doing his job.
But the raid wasn't about justice, it was about politics and Jorge
Mas. Not only had Lehtinen been supported by Mas when he was a
state senator, he was married to Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, a Mas political
loyalist and old friend (their families were neighbors in Santiago de
Cuba). Ros-Lehtinen was depending on Mas for heavy support in her
bid for the late Claude Pepper's congressional seat. After her
husband's art raid on Cernuda, she got it.
In the end, it was such a perverted use of power that even a
Reagan-appointed Republican jurist, Judge Kenneth Ryscamp, threw the
case out and called the government's actions "arbitrary and capricious."
It mattered little to Mas, he had made his point. He went on a
talk show on Radio Mambi, one of the strident anti-Castro stations, and
admitted that he was indeed responsible for the action against Cernuda
and Scott. It was his way of telling the world that, win or lose,
he is still El Numero Uno Hombre.
Occasionally, even Mas gets carried away with the role. As when
he challenged Miami City Commissioner Joe Corollo to a duel, preferably
with guns. Corollo had vetoed a $130 million real estate
development deal in which Mas, former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick
and others were involved. Corollo had suggested that one of the
investors might have done some business with a communist country.
That was too much for Mas. He immediately took to the Latin
airwaves and made his challenge. "I am going to prove to the Cubans
that you are a clown and a coward," said Mas. "Your bullying in
Miami has ended because you have encountered a man, with a capital
M. A very big M."
Corollo laughed off the challenge and suggested the duel be held with
water pistols to cool off Mas. He wasn't laughing when he lost
his commission seat at the next election to a candidate Mas backed with
a large sum of money.
There is a seeming arrogance that pervades Jorge Mas' displays of
power. To a degree, that is part of the facade, the cultivated
myth. Arrogance is an exposed trait, an obvious
characteristic. With Mas it disguises more complex motivations.
Little of what Mas does stands as an isolated scheme. He works
from a master plan driven by personal passions and honed by his
training. Designed to succeed or to fail, every action must
ultimately contribute to the goals of the larger mission.
His battle with The Miami Herald was so designed. When Mas fired
the opening shot against the media flagship of the powerful
Knight-Ridder corporate giant, it didn't come, as it appeared, from a
fit of pique or spontaneous outrage. The outcome proved that.
Some Miamians – not all of them Mas supporters -- think the Herald got
what it deserved. In the past, it has gotten obsequious in
catering to its Cuban exile readers, a posture pressured by its
declining readership. In fact, it's ironic that when publisher
David Lawrence Jr. first arrived on the job, he early devoted an entire
Sunday op-ed column to Jorge Mas. In handling the piece, Lawrence
was so deferential to Mas the New Times weekly dubbed him "Doormat
Dave." (Lawrence quoted Mas: "I am a man who easily falls in love
with an ideal. I am an idealist. When I see an injustice
being done, I am the first volunteer to step forward." Added
Lawrence: "This is the Jorge Mas Canosa he believes too few of us
What ostensibly led Mas to begin la battala de Herald was the
newspaper's editorial opposing a congressional bill tightening the
embargo on Cuba. That bill was floated by Mas himself and now,
outrageously enough, here was Mas' hometown newspaper trying to sink
it. It was a direct challenge to Mas' reputation in Washington.
Mas' initial barrage came over the Spanish-language radio stations
which have long been his soapboxes. He denounced both The Miami
Herald and its Spanish-language edition, El Nuevo Herald, as "tools of
the Fidel Castro regime" and urged its two senior Cuban American
executives to resign. "El Nuevo Herald manipulates information
just like Granma [the official state newspaper of Cuba]," he
fumed. The Herald, he said, conducted a "continuous and
systematic campaign against Cuban Americans, their institutions,
values, ethics and ideals."
Publisher David Lawrence and Herald President Roberto Suarez (one of
the executives Mas had asked to resign) issued a measured joint
statement in reply calling the allegations "sad and painful and unfair."
From there, the firing and counter-firing escalated. Lawrence,
congenitally the Mr. Rogers of newspaper publishers, kept toughening
up, but he was no match for Mas. The Herald devoted a huge number
of type inches to the battle, many of them to attacks on the newspaper
written by Mas himself. The Herald was desperately trying to
establish a civil "dialogue." It was a very gentlemanly way to
fight and Mas took advantage of it. He wrote cool, biting but
diplomatic essays detailing his viewpoint, then headed for the Cuban
exile radio stations to shove it hot and heavy up Lawrence's rear
end. The clearest indication of who was winning the battle came
when Lawrence, after filling a half-page column with what he thought
was a tough, firm stance, topped it with a banner headline:
'PLEASE MR. MAS, BE FAIR.' It had the sad sound of a big
It got ugly from there. The Cuban American National Foundation
sent letters to Herald advertisers to "raise awareness" of the "bias
and half-truths that have appeared" in the newspaper. The
Herald's sidewalk vending boxes were defaced and smeared with
excrement. Lawrence received bomb and death threats. Mas
publicly deplored such threats and said they had probably been made by
Castro's agents seeking to discredit Cuban exiles. The backs of
city buses bloomed with large display ads reading, on the routes
through Latin neighborhoods, "YO NO CREO EN EL HERALD," and on other
routes, "I DON'T BELIEVE THE MIAMI HERALD." For the first time in
its 50-year history, the Inter American Press Association sent a team,
at the Herald's urging, to investigate a press problem in the United
States. (It found Mas' pro-Castro charges against the Herald
The battle went on for months until Mas decided he had made his point
and it was no longer in his benefit to continue. At a "Community
Unity" luncheon sponsored by the Easter Seal Society, he announced that
the Herald had become "more objective" in the past weeks and declared
the Cuban American community's campaign against the Herald was
David Lawrence and The Miami Herald might take pride in not knuckling
under to the pressure that Mas and his cohorts piled on, but they took
a hell of an image pounding. One of the most revealing aspects of
the affair, however, was the criticism and reaction Mas himself
received from those who had usually found in his corner -- including
the Bush administration. Jeb Bush is still trying to distance
himself from Mas, at least publicly. His principal business partner,
Armando Codina, gave up his Foundation directorship. Even Elliott
Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State and tough anti-Castro
cohort of Mas, publicly chastised his old pal in a speech, saying Mas'
battle against the Herald was wrong and created doubts about Mas'
"understanding of the role of a free press in America today, and in
Tough talk, but Mas had to know it would coming. He didn't
give a damn because he knows he now has the Bush administration by the
huevos. Both Mas' push for tightening the embargo against
Cuba and his battle with the Herald fit into a larger picture.
That picture comes in black and white and features only two
figures: Jorge Mas Canosa and Fidel Castro. When Mas
saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union coming, he knew that
Castro's regime would be badly, if not fatally shaken. Mas
decided to intensify his harassment of Castro in order to provoke a
reaction that might involve the United States. At the same time,
he moved to enlarge and fortify his image in case -- just in case -- a
vacuum for it might develop in some island somewhere. Part of the
motivation in picking a fight with the Herald was to test the strength
of the power he had long been methodically accumulating.
Few of Mas' moves to consolidate his power have been subtle. He
has taken an incredible amount of flak for some of them, shots that
would have knocked down any other public figure. Yet he seems to
hold a mysterious force that enables him to endure. His
successful effort to push Radio Martí's Ernesto Betancourt out
of his way is an example.
Considering the controversy of its birth, Radio Martí received
relatively little criticism after it began operating. That was
because of Betancourt. In order to get the station, Mas had been
forced to promise a few congressional committees that he wouldn't turn
it into a rabble- rousing voice of Miami's Cuban exiles. As Radio
Martí's director, Betancourt became his front man to that
promise. But, as it turned out, Betancourt was serious about
running Martí as an objective, non-confrontational news
operation. Unlike the Miami exile stations, Martí did not
call Castro the "bloody satrap" or refer to him as "the hyena of the
Caribbean." Betancourt, now 65, is a veteran Washingtonian who
helped set up President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress. A classy
guy, he has always been fiercely independent. He was one of the
few anti-Castro Cuban exiles who opposed the Bay of Pigs because he
thought its inevitable failure would help consolidate Castro's
power. It did.
Mas used Betancourt to give Radio Martí its initial legitimacy,
but the director got in the way of the station chairman's evolving
master plan. Mas' insistence on starting TV Martí led to
Betancourt's departure. Betancourt argued that the effort itself
would undermine Radio Martí's credibility. Intruding on
Cuba's television airwaves would be both illegal and ineffective and
worse, he argued, it could provoke a reaction by Castro against Radio
Martí which, until then, was reaching Cuba without being
jammed. Betancourt argued himself out of a job.
He did not go quietly, and Mas had to have known that he
wouldn't. One of Betancourt's friends and supporters is Georgie
Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist. Mas could not
accuse Geyer, always supportive of his anti-Castro stance, of being
among his liberal enemies. Now, however, Geyer saw Mas' ploy as
"a raw battle for power," his push for TV Martí a move "to
advance Mas' ambitions to be president of a post-Castro Cuba."
More sinister, she said, was Mas' "final intent...to use both Radio and
TV Martí as a means of invoking a 'confrontation' between the
United States and Cuba." She said Mas hoped to provoke Castro
into more and more jamming so that, eventually, "President Bush would
have to retaliate."
Geyer thought the matter serious enough to appeal directly to the
top: "Someone in the White House has got to straighten this out,"
she wrote. "For we taxpayers are living with -- and grandly
paying for -- the illusions of glory of deluded men. We also may
be paying for far-more-dangerous things, such as an all-out
confrontation with Fidel Castro."
Geyer's column is home based in the conservative Washington Times and
she is known to have the White House's ear. Yet despite such
vehement opposition from Geyer and other opponents of the project,
including his own State Department, President Bush authorized $7.5
million to "test" TV Martí and then, once it was established
hardly anyone in Cuba was receiving it, another $16 million a year to
keep it going. Geyer may have had President Bush's ear, but Mas
had him by another part of his anatomy.
Miami is a universe of mirrors. Nothing appears in context, yet
nothing that happens is without context. It is a universe
manacled to its history, shaped and driven by the men whose idealistic
passions and sinister intrigues were enmeshed in that history. It
is a universe where the myth configured by Jorge Mas Canosa meets
One evening not that long ago, a select group of members of the Cuban
American National Foundation gathered in a private room above the
Mirabella restaurant on Calle Ocho. They had been invited to hear
a special guest, a retired official of the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency, now a "business consultant." The meeting wasn't
publicized, the media wasn't informed of it. The retired official
appears in public rarely and reluctantly. His entire career has
been shrouded in the utmost secrecy, few Americans even know of his
existence. Yet he has played a key role in pivotal events in
American history. That he should emerge from the seclusion of his
estate in Virginia to speak to a small group from the Cuban American
National Foundation in Miami reveals a bit about the status of the
organization in certain circles and a lot about Jorge Mas Canosa's
Theodore G. Shackley had risen to Deputy Director of Operations at the
CIA. That is the Agency's clandestine services division, its
"dirty tricks" department. At strategic posts from Berlin to Laos
to Vietnam, Shackley has been the point man in the Agency's secret
wars. Of the select inside players in the CIA's Old Boy network,
he is among those deepest inside.
What made Shackley's appearance that night in Miami so significant to
many members of the Foundation was that, although they had not known
him then, nor even his name, at one time they worked for him.
Shackley headed the CIA station in Miami known as JM/WAVE. The
years of the station's operations defined the future of Miami, the
character of the Cuban exile movement and the track of Jorge Mas' life.
Following the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy was equally furious at
both Fidel Castro, for repeatedly rubbing his nose in the debacle, and
at the CIA, for botching it. Kennedy was determined to get
even. He sent his brother Robert to take direct charge of the
Agency and organize a prolonged clandestine guerilla war against
Castro. Insiders called it "the Kennedy vendetta." Miami's
JM/WAVE station became the largest CIA operation outside of
Langley. Thousands of Cuban exiles were put on the Agency's
payroll. Each of the 400 American case officer employed as many
as ten Cuban "principal agents" who, in turn, controlled as many as 30
regular agents. Dozens of Cuban exile groups, most of whose
members thought they were renegade operations regularly violating the
Neutrality Act, were actually controlled by the CIA. More than
$100 million a year went into logistics, weapons, boats, planes, and
secret training camps in the Florida Keys and the Everglades.
Nightly raids were made into Cuba, destroying or disrupting railroads,
oil refineries, sugar mills and other facilities. JM/WAVE's
secret war was so successful it eventually produced the Cuban Missile
Crisis. That led Kennedy to a personal awakening, a sudden
realization that he had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear
holocaust. He made a deal with Khruschev that included ending the
secret war and closing down the CIA's exile operations.
Kennedy discovered that wars, even secret ones, are easier to start
than to turn off. The Cuban exiles thought Kennedy was a
traitor. So did many of their CIA supervisors. When the
guerilla raids didn't stop on his command, Kennedy ordered the U.S.
Navy and the Coast Guard to raid and shut the secret training
camps. That was evidence that Kennedy was a traitor. Jorge
Mas still says that the man he hates most after Fidel Castro is
After Kennedy's assassination, the Agency and the Cuban exiles renewed
their military operations against Castro. They weren't on as
large a scale but they continued until the late Sixties, when attention
turned to Vietnam. The JM/WAVE station, however, left a legacy of
alliances between the Cuban exiles and the CIA that would endure.
These men, after all, had been trained to be sophisticated warriors,
schooled in weaponry, sabotage, explosives and terrorist tactics.
Their loyalties and special talents would emerge down through the years
in other areas of Agency activities, from Vietnam to Chile, Angola, El
Salvador and Nicaragua. Some became involved in terrorist
blackmailing, political bombings and narcotics trafficking.
Others popped up in Watergate and in other congressional
investigations. The alliances also emerged in business
networking, deals between men who had mutual interests and
fidelities. Many became very rich.
Sometime in 1981, in Miami, a very good friend of Jorge Mas got
married. More than 300 of the most wealthy and prominent Cuban
exiles in America were invited. They came from all over the
country. Every one of them, when they signed the guest register,
listed their current address. Except Jorge Mas Canosa. He
listed his address as "Santiago de Cuba."
It was another puff for the myth that Mas has been keeping afloat for
so long. Mas may have been born in Cuba and spent his formative
years there, but he is less a product of the island than he is of the
American intelligence community.
When Mas was a teenager in Santiago de Cuba, a port city on the
island's eastern coast, Castro's 26th of July Movement was operating in
the surrounding Sierra Maestra Mountains. Mas' father, a
veterinarian, was a major in Fulgencio Batista's army. Young Mas,
the third of five brothers and one sister, seemed both a natural leader
and a natural rabble-rouser. Despite being a Roman Catholic, Mas
had joined the local Masonic Lodge and teamed up with another young
Mason to broadcast a weekend program on Radio Santiago. They kept
taking shots at Batista's local chief of police and were once brought
in for questioning. That's when Papa Mas packed Jorge off to the
Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina.
A week after Castro's revolution, Mas returned to Cuba and enrolled in
law school at Oriente University. He was 19. He plunged
into student politics and, when Castro began prosecuting his former
26th of July associates, Mas turned to anti-Castro activism. One
morning, after he had spent the night plastering the town with posters,
the police came to arrest him. "God came to my rescue," Mas would
later recall. "I delivered a beautiful piece of oratory. The guys
around were so impressed they told the captain, 'He is innocent, let
him go.'" Two weeks later, he fled to Miami.
Mas never returned to school. He immediately got involved with
the CIA and its plans for a secret invasion. On the records of
the 2506 Brigade invasion force, he is listed as the squad leader of
the 1st Rifle Company, 3rd Squad, El Grupo Niño Diaz. That
group was aboard a ship which was going to land in Mas' native Oriente
province. The attack was meant to divert Castro's attention from
the main force at Bahia de Cochina. Commander Niño Diaz
and his troops circled around off shore a while and quickly departed
when it was learned that the main landing had failed. In the main
force, 114 died and 1,180 were taken prisoner. Mas never got his
In his interviews with reporters over the years, Mas usually wheels
quickly through those years between the Bay of Pigs and the formation
of the Cuban American National Foundation in 1981. Like all 2506
Brigade veterans, he was offered the chance to receive an officer's
commission in the U.S. Army with promises, he claims, that there would
be another invasion attempt. Mas portrays his Army
experience as inconsequential, says he took the offer but resigned when
he realized the government was deceiving the exiles. Married with
a couple of kids, he says he returned to Miami to take a series of
menial jobs -- dishwasher, shoe salesman, milkman -- to survive.
Actually, Mas' Army training is relevant. The majority of the
Cuban exiles were sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, or Fort Jackson, South
Carolina. Mas was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the
Infantry School, but also a base where men in civilian suits came and
gave special courses in such specialties as clandestine communications,
intelligence and propaganda. No invasion was planned, but, after
Kennedy's assassination, the government resumed its secret war on a
smaller scale and more secret level. Some of the exiles trained
at Benning joined a CIA-financed operation led by Manuel Artime, the
former Agency-picked political officer of 2506 Brigade. For two
years they launched successful raids against Cuba out of Nicaragua,
where strongman Anastasio Somoza was in business with the Agency.
Among the exiles trained at Fort Benning were two who would become Mas'
closest links to the American intelligence community: Felix
Rodriquez and Luis Posada. They would also become two of the
CIA's most effective and lethal agents.
Back in Miami after Benning, Mas was selected for a newly-formed
anti-Castro organization called Representatión Cubana en El
Exilio, known by its acronym, RECE [ray- say]. Ostensibly, RECE
was backed by Bacardi Rum magnate Jose M. Bosch, but files later
reviewed by congressional investigators reveal it was CIA
supported. An early FBI report lists its leaders as Jorge Mas and
Ernesto Freyre. Freyre had worked with the intelligence
community's top legend, William ("Wild Bill") Donovan, in ransoming the
Bay of Pigs prisoners from Castro. Also working for RECE was
Erneido Oliva, the Agency-picked second in command at the Bay of Pigs
and one of its heroes. Oliva would later remember Mas as "our
propaganda guy." Mas never manned the boats that attacked Cuba's
coastline or infiltrated the island, but he did more than handle
propaganda. An FBI memo reveals how he once delivered $5000 to
Luis Posada, another El Grupo Niño Diaz survivor and, even then,
on the CIA payroll. The money was to cover expenses in blowing up
a Cuban ship in Mexico's Vera Cruz harbor.
Jorge Mas might not have reached his current status as globe-hopping
international diplomat, back-slapping buddy to prominent politicians
and influential advisor to the President if he had carried with him a
reputation as an active associate of the most violent of anti-Castro
terrorists. Now he keeps the myth inflated by condemning
violence, except if by insurrectionists inside Cuba. Now he
publicly distances himself from those to whom he has provided major
support for the most violent of actions. He was, for instance,
very close to Tony Cuesta, commander of the group called Commandos
L. Cuesta describes himself as "some kind of cool fanatic."
He has organized 33 raids against Cuba. Mas helped plan many of
them, helped raise money, get boats and guns. On one raid, rather
than surrender, Cuesta attempted to blow up his boat with a crude hand
grenade. The blast ripped off his left arm and left him blind but
alive. He spent 12 years in a Castro prison. Castro
released him as part his detente with President Carter. When
Cuesta returned to Miami, he immediately began planning more
attacks. In fact, he designed a special craft from which island
infiltrators could silently depart through a special compartment built
into the hull. Mas remained one of Cuesta's quiet backers.
It was Mas' old network of connections which helped him become a
multimillionaire business success. His anti-Castro organization,
RECE, was closely linked to the local Miami unit of the Communication
Workers of America, a telephone employees' union heavy with Cuban
exiles. Their offices were both in the Bell Arcade in Little
Havana, conveniently next to the Army-Navy Surplus outlet. A RECE
director who had headed the union in Cuba knew two Cubans named
Iglesias and Torres who had set up a company in Puerto Rico to do
contract work for the telephone company. In 1968, Mas opened
their Miami office. Business poured in but the cash flow was
slow. The firm started to sink. Mas offered to buy out
Iglesias and Torres for $50,000. Mas changed the name of the firm
to its English equivalent, Church & Tower, and within a year after
he acquired it, the cash flow suddenly turned around and Mas, through
the RECE director's contacts, had a million-dollar contract with
The priority of Jorge Mas' primary loyalties rarely surfaces publicly,
but even when it does and he is forced to protect them, he does not
hesitate to push every power button at his command -- including the one
that rings at the top. That was illustrated when he was forced to
reveal his connection to Dr. Orlando Bosch. The former baby
doctor may be the world's best known anti-Castro militant, which is the
softest way to characterize him. "Bosch," the Boston Globe once
editorialized, "is in a class with terrorists such as Abu Nidal."
Orlando Bosch's career is a prime example of how the apparatus the U.S.
government created to wage its secret war against Castro produced odd
permutations. A CIA report ties Bosch to more than 90 terrorist
acts -- bombings, kidnapings, assassinations -- both in the U.S. and
abroad from 1968 to 1980. In the process, many innocent people
were killed. ("It is part of the hard reality of war," Bosch admits.)
Two momentous events in Bosch's career provide an uncommon glimpse into
a covert brotherhood of intelligence-trained exiles who, despite being
involved in terrorist activities, have been major players in the U.S.
Government's Latin American policy. Jorge Mas is a link
connecting important members of that brotherhood.
In the summer of 1976, at a resort in the mountains near Bonao,
Dominican Republic, 20 men representing the most militant Cuban exile
groups held a secret meeting. Bosch considered it a personal
triumph to bring together the fractious exile organizations into a
coalition called Commando of United Revolutionary Organizations, or
CORU. Among those attending that first CORU summit were several
close associates of Jorge Mas, including the brothers Ignacio and
Guillermo Novo, José Dionisio Suárez and RECE comrade,
Luis Posada, his old friend from his Bay of Pigs aborted invasion
ship. After his training at Fort Benning, Posada had gone
directly on the payroll of the CIA.
At the time of the Bonao meeting, Bosch was a Federal fugitive.
He had been arrested for firing a bazooka at a Polish ship in Miami
harbor. Paroled in 1972, he skipped the country when a grand jury
wanted to question him about the assassination of a rival Cuban exile
leader. By 1976, he was living in Caracas, where another Cuban
exile, Orlando Garcia, was chief of the secret police, DSIP, and Luis
Posada had started his own private security agency. Of the Bonao
meeting, Bosch would later explain: "Everything was planned
there. I told them that we couldn't just keep bombing an embassy
here and a police station there. We had to start taking more
serious actions." In the 10 months after its first summit, CORU
took credit for more than 50 bombings in Miami, New York, Venezuela,
Panama, Mexico and Argentina.
CORU was also responsible for two of the decade's most brazen acts of
violence. One was the September 1976 car bombing of former
Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row in Washington
D.C. The other was the October 1976 mid-air explosion of a Cubana
Airlines plane out of Barbados that killed all 73 aboard, including a
score of South Americans and all 24 of the young athletes on Cuba's
gold-medal fencing team.
Trindad police arrested two Venezuelans, Freddy Lugo and Hernan
Ricardo, who had flown the Cubana plane on the first leg of its trip
from Trinidad to Barbados under assumed names. Ricardo, who
worked for Luis Posada's security agency, admitted that he and Lugo had
planted two bombs on the plane. He said that Posada and Bosch
were the masterminds. Ricardo and Lugo were turned over to the
Venezuelan police and Posada and Bosch were arrested. When police
raided Posada's office, they discovered a map of Washington showing
Letelier's daily work route.
Michael Townley, an American who worked for Chile's intelligence
service, DINA, later confessed to murdering Letelier and Ronnie
Moffitt, an Institute for Policy Studies associate who was riding with
him. DINA had systematically been eliminating opposition to the
government of General Augusto Pinochet. Townley said he had used
a team of Cuban exiles, to whom Pinochet was a hero, to help him.
Among those who worked with him, Townley said, were the Novo brothers,
both CORU members. He said the radio-controlled bomb was
triggered by José Dionisio Suárez, another CORU member.
The years went by. Townley plea-bargained himself to a ten-year
sentence and served five. Guillermo Novo was found guilty of
murder, but his conviction was overturned because the government had
obtained his confession from a convict it had planted in his
cell. Ignacio Novo's conviction of perjury was also
overturned. José Dionisio Suárez was a fugitive
until two years ago. After his arrest, the Cuban American
National Foundation helped raise money for his defense, but he later
pleaded guilty. Just how tight Jorge Mas is to the CORU
terrorists was indicated recently when, in a move that any public
relations expert might call indiscreet, he appointed the Novo brothers
on the Foundation's "Information Commission." The commission's
job is to generate better public relations.
Posada and Bosch remained in a Venezuelan prison. There had been
world-wide reaction to the plane bombing but the Venezuelan government
was in a bind. Posada had been on DSIP's payroll and DSIP had
provided Bosch safehaven as a U.S. fugitive. Their trials kept
getting postponed, but both lived well in comfortably-furnished cells,
with Sony televisions and designer sheets on their beds. Bosch
never confessed to the airline bombing, but he did a frequent jail
visitor, Alicia Herrera, a Venezuelan journalist and good friend of
Freddy Lugo, details of the plot, including documents. But
having Bosch in jail was considered a political hot potato and,
besides, Venezuelan president, Carlos Andres Perez, thought Posada was
the prime instigator of the crime. DSIP chief Orlando Garcia, who
himself was on the CIA payroll at the time, offered Bosch $5000 to
escape. Bosch wouldn't go without Posada. Finally, in
August, 1985, Posada bribed his way out of jail and, with a twin-engine
Cessna provided by Cuban exile friends from Miami, flew to El
Salvador. There he got back on the CIA payroll working with an
old friend, the CIA's Felix Rodriquez, supplying arms to the Nicaraguan
In 1987, after Bosch was in prison for more than 11 years, a Venezuelan
judge decided there wasn't enough evidence to hold him any longer.
(Lugo and Ricardo had both been convicted and sentenced to 20
years.) Bosch was returned to the United States and jailed in the
Federal correctional center in Miami for 14 months for his parole
violation. Then the Immigration & Naturalization Service
legally declared him an "undesirable alien" and moved to deport
him. Only Cuba wanted him, 31 other countries refused to accept
him. With his record as a confessed terrorist, Bosch had to
remain in prison.
But in July, 1990, Orlando Bosch drove away from Federal prison in a
Mercedes Benz. President Bush had ordered the Immigration Service
to release him and put him under "electronic monitoring" in his
home. He had done so against the advice of Justice Department
officials and the FBI. One retired FBI agent was so incensed he
wrote a letter to Secretary of State George Schultz describing Bosch as
"Miami's number one terrorist." When Bosch was released, The New
York Times wrote a scathing editorial concluding: "In the name of
fighting terrorism, the United States sent the Air Force to bomb Libya
and the Army to invade Panama. Yet now the Bush Administration
coddles one of the hemisphere's most notorious terrorists. And
for what reason? The only one evident is currying favor in South
There was another not so evident reason: Jorge Mas Canosa.
Mas had pulled out all stops for Bosch. He not only had his
favorite Florida congressional hacks, Senator Connie Mack and House Rep
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as well as Jeb Bush apply political pressure, Mas
wielded his own special relationship with the President. That
core of that relationship was obviously compelling enough for the
President to squander the nation's international prestige for the sake
of a single exile terrorist.
The core grew from the seed: The Cuban American National
Foundation wasn't planted by the Cuban exiles but by Americans
connected with the U.S. intelligence establishment.
Soon after Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, he and his clique of
rock-hard cold warriors decided on a grand strategy of taking the war
to the enemy -- the spreading Evil Empire of Godless Communism.
Chief architect of the strategy was CIA director William Casey, a
veteran of the Agency's clandestine operations. Casey declared
the Administration's first mission was to stomp out the sparks of
Leftist revolutions in Central America, but, in order to do so, the
crusade had to incorporate a two-front war. Casey detailed the
President's National Security Council to set up a "public diplomacy"
program. This was the cover for a covert domestic propaganda
effort to neutralize the post-Vietnam public opposition to foreign U.S.
It was Richard V. Allen, the President's national security consultant
(and the same guy who later added to Reagan's "sleeze factor" by taking
cash and watches from a Japanese journalist), who came up with the idea
that the Cuban exiles, if they were led to believe that toppling Castro
was Reagan's top goal, could be organized into an effective tool to
promote the President's pro-active foreign policy. As his conduit
to the exiles, Allen used Mario Elgarresta, a security council aide who
had once been a political consultant in Miami as well as an executive
with Southern Bell, for which Mas was prime contractor. It's
obvious now that Jorge Mas Canosa was the pre-ordained action
connection, but he was little known in the exile community and, among
those who did know him, he was considered just another diehard
anti-Castro zealot. He was a little too obvious. Washington
needed front men of more stature and respectability to give the
organization immediate status. Allen and Elgarresta chose Raul
Masvidal and Carlos Salmon. Elgarresta and Masvidal had gone to
the same Jesuit school in Cuba. Masvidal was a class act,
president of a bank and one of the most respected men not only in
Little Havana but, equally, in the community as a whole. No one
doubted his anti- Castroism, but he was moderate enough to be accepted
in Miami's Non-Group of community civic leaders and, although a
Republican, he was a friend of the Kennedy family. Carlos Salman
was similarly respected, a wealthy realtor who had long been in
mainstream American politics as a Republican fundraiser.
Masvidal remembers he and Salman going to Washington to meet Richard
Allen and Mario Elgarresta. "We were told that there was a chance
of doing something during the Reagan administration for Cuba if we
could organize to improve our image," he recalls. "That was the
It was at that meeting that Elgarresta suggested adding Jorge Mas
Canosa as a founding organizer. "It made sense at the time," says
Masvidal. "Carlos was largely involved in political affairs, I
was largely involved in civic affairs and Jorge had always been
involved in the Cuba cause. So that's how we got together."
Mas wasn't hesitant about taking the reins. "Originally," says
Masvidal, "Salman and I had a lot more connections than Jorge to the
Reagan Administration. Jorge was a nobody. But he has a
single-purpose mind and somehow he grabbed the leadership and
eventually he pushed Salman out and eventually eased me out, too."
In retrospect, Masvidal says, he didn't realize the Reagan
Administration set up the Foundation not to specifically advance the
Cuban cause but as part of its larger scheme. "Not initially," he
says, "but after you've been burned two or three times by the
machinations of the CIA and the U.S. Government, you get
skeptical." Jorge Mas was the manipulator. "It's such a
dishonest effort," Masvidal says, "that I feel bad now that I was used
by Jorge, that I was so dumb that I allowed myself to be
utilized. He's a hell of a natural leader and he fooled me. The
same way that 10 million people will tell you that Castro fooled them
when he said he wasn't a Communist."
Neither was the special structure of the new organization Mas'
idea. He was steered to a Washington attorney who was close to
the Administration. The late Barney Barnett had set up the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the highly
effective pro-Israel lobby. Barnett advised setting up the
Foundation's PAC and its lobbying arm as separate entities.
"The lobby arm was originally called the Cuban American Public Affairs
Council," notes a former Foundation member. "They changed the name to
the Cuban American Foundation to deceive the contributors.
Donations to the Cuban American National Foundation are tax-deductible,
but not those to its lobby, the Cuban American Foundation. A lot
of money floats around."
When the Foundation was organized, Jorge Mas relied on its first
executive director, Frank Calzon, to make political contacts and show
him around Washington. Long active in the human rights movement
and highly respected on the Hill, Calzon built the Foundation's initial
reputation as a legitimate base for source material on the Cuban
issue. But as Mas began to steer the organization closer to the
Administration, Calzon didn't like what he saw coming. Calzon
soon found himself participating in weekly intelligence briefings that
were held in the White House complex, where intelligence agents from a
number of services would report the latest developments in Latin
American hot spots. When Calzon resigned, Mas started a vicious
whispering campaign about his personal life. Calzon wrote a
column for The Miami Herald warning the Cuban community to beware the
"new caudillos" who would lead them to harm's way.
There were also a series of personnel movements between the Foundation
and the intelligence community, the most notable being the appointment
of José Sorzano, president of the Foundation, to the National
Security Council. On his departure, Mas gave him a $10,000 bonus.
"Between 1981 and 1985," recalls Raul Masvidal, "I was very involved in
the Foundation while Jorge started getting closer and closer to the
White House and the Washington intelligence community. There is
no question that he built some kind of personal trail where all kinds
of orders were brought down from Washington. Jorge didn't trust
me enough to involve me, he was a good operator, but he was obviously
getting marching orders from the White House or the CIA or somewhere."
That "somewhere" is the key to Jorge Mas' connections. In January
1983, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive No.
77, a secret executive order that permitted the National Security
Council to coordinate inter-agency efforts for something called
"Project Democracy." In February 1987, Joel Brinkley, a reporter
for The New York Times, uncovered the significance of that order:
"The Reagan Administration's clandestine dealings with Iran and the
Nicaraguan rebels grew out of a well-concealed program established in
the White House at least four years ago to conduct covert foreign
policy initiatives.... The program, Project Democracy, began as
the secret side of an otherwise open, well-publicized initiative that
started life under the same name. Project Democracy's covert side
was intended to carry out foreign policy tasks that other Government
agencies were unable or unwilling to pursue...."
The public arm of Project Democracy evolved into the National Endowment
for Democracy, a conduit of funds to the Cuban American National
Foundation and other groups supportive of Administration policy.
The N.E.D. was supervised by the NSC's Walter Raymond Jr., a propaganda
expert and senior officer detailed from the CIA's Directorate of
Operations. Lt. Col. Oliver North was an obscure National
Security Council aide when he was appointed to head the secret arm of
Project Democracy. Under him, it grew into a parallel foreign
policy apparatus and pulled the NSC into the business of running secret
operations out of the White House, culminating in the sale of arms to
Iran, the diversion of profits and the illegal supply of arms to the
Jorge Mas was up to his bushy eyebrows in both aspects of Project
Democracy. Aside from his involvement with N.E.D. funding, Mas
joined the national board of an offspring of Project Democracy called
PRODEMCA, which backed U.S. military assistance to the Nicaraguan
Contras. It worked in conjunction with a secret fund-raising
program pulled together by one of Reagan's bosom buddies, U.S.
Information Agency director Charles Wick. (The Wicks were old
California friends, one of the few couples who regularly dined
privately with Nancy and Ron.) In a statement issued to The New
York Times in 1987, Wick denied any connection to Project
Democracy: "I did not, and I was never asked to raise money for
He was kidding. In 1983, in a confidential "talking points" memo
for a meeting of wealthy businessmen, President Reagan noted:
"Charlie Wick has taken the lead in Project Democracy.... I asked
Charlie to pull this group together -- to form a nucleus of support in
the private sector for programs critical to our efforts overseas.
I know Charlie can do this."
Charlie did it. He got $400,000 out of the group. Working
with Wick, Jorge Mas became one of his closest friends and
supporters. And -- what are friends for? -- he even did Wick a
few favors. In 1983, Wick was invited as a guest to the board
meeting of the Cuban American National Foundation and spend a few days
at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. Shortly afterwards, it was
revealed that Wick had been regularly and secretly taping his telephone
conversations, including those with top members of the
Administration. It was stupid and indiscreet but not against
Federal law to do so in Washington, but it became known that Wick had
also taped conversations while he was at the Breakers. (In fact,
he recorded a conversation with Reagan's then-chief of staff, James
Baker, about Project Democracy.) In Florida, it is a felony crime
to tape telephone conversations without two-party consent or a court
order. That put Republican Palm Beach State Attorney David
Bludworth in a bind. Wick had obviously committed a felony, but
Bludworth said he would have to research the law before he made a
decision about indicting Wick. The problem for Bludworth was that
the law was so damn clear and, worse, Wick had confessed he did it and
turned the tapes over to a Senate committee.
It was obviously time for Jorge Mas and his wealthy friends of the
Cuban American National Foundation to assess the situation. It so
happened that Bludworth was running for re- election in 1984 and was
falling behind in his fund raising. Weeks went by while
Bludworth pondered his decision. After the heat of the incident
subsided, Bludworth announced he decided not to indict Wick.
Taking it upon himself to judicially dynamite the ignorance-of- the-law
concept, Palm Beach's chief criminal prosecutor explained: "Wick
was not aware of our statutes."
That fall, Bludworth's campaign contribution reports listed a number of
hefty donations from Cuban Americans, as well as contributions from
lawyers Charles Barnett and his father, Barney. Sure, the same
Barney Barnett who had helped legally structure the Cuban American
Doing favors for friends of men at the top often produces
reciprocation. But to be guaranteed clout at the top when you
need it, you have to be owed more than a few favors. Ron Reagan
and George Bush owe Jorge Mas a lot.
Early this summer, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh
obtained a criminal indictment against former Defense Secretary Caspar
Weinberger. The indictment charges Weinberger with being involved
in and then covering up the illegal trade of arms for hostages with
Iran and shipments of arms to the Contras. Woven throughout the
30-page indictment is the name of President George Bush. At the
time, Bush was Vice President and a chief of the Crisis Management Team
of the National Security Council. Although he has never been
called to testify under oath, Bush has repeatedly denied any knowledge
of illegal arms sales or shipments. He claims he was "out of the
On October 11, 1986 there was a little-noticed story at the bottom of
page one of The Miami Herald. It was written by Washington bureau
staffer Alfonso Chardy:
The National Security Council and the Office of Vice President George
Bush shared responsibilities in setting up the elaborate supply system
that came to light with the downing of an American-manned aircraft in
Nicaragua last week, knowledgeable administration officials said
The administration officials said that while the NSC recruited
technical and logistical personnel retired from the CIA or Army Special
Forces in establishing the network, the vice president's staff
concentrated on organizing Cuban exiles in Miami.
Spokesmen for the White House and the vice president's office on
Saturday repeated denials that the U.S. government was involved in any
way in efforts to provide military supplies to the anti-Sandinista
Now, six years later, no knowledgeable Washington insider doubts the
accuracy of Chardy's story, but no special prosecutor has yet produced
one live witness who would swear in court that both Reagan and Bush
knew and were directly involved in the illegal Contra supply
network. Tom Polgar, a staff member on the congressional
committees that investigated the operation, characterizes Bush's
protestations of ignorance as "total nonsense." Yet, until
someone comes forward who worked with Bush or his aides on the inside
and knows that the then-Vice President had knowledge of the actual arms
supply operation, Bush can't be charged with a crime.
One of the first cracks of light to hit that operation came with the
downing of the American-manned aircraft mentioned in Chardy's Herald
story. The only surviving crewman, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured
and paraded before reporters in Managua. Hasenfus said that a
Cuban-American veteran of the Bay of Pigs named "Max Gomez" helped
coordinate the aerial supply network from an airbase at Ilopango in El
Salvador. According to Hasenfus, Gomez told his associates at
Ilopango that he reported to Vice President George Bush, a member of
the National Security Council, about his activities. It was
Bush's adviser on the NSC, Donald Gregg, who helped arrange the private
When reporters caught up to Bush on a campaign swing through North
Carolina, he acknowledged that he had met Gomez three times and
described him as "a patriot," but Bush refused to answer questions
about his knowledge of the supply network.
It wasn't long before it became known that the man Hasenfus had known
as "Max Gomez" was really Felix Rodriquez, the legendary CIA agent and
close pal of Jorge Mas. (Rodriguez would later claim he adopted
the moniker of "Max Gomez," a hero of Cuba's war of independence, when
he arrived in El Salvador, but, oddly enough, "Max Gomez" was also
listed in the address book confiscated by Venezuelan police from
Orlando Bosch.) Rodriquez had worked with Bush's adviser Donald
Gregg, also a CIA veteran, in Vietnam. When that became known,
Gregg refused any comment, but Marlin Fitzwater, a spokesman for Bush,
said, "There is no one on the vice president's staff who is directing
or coordinating an operation in Central America. Allegations to
that effect are simply not true."
Later, Rodrigues issued a statement, distributed by Bush's office, that
he was only "marginally involved" in the effort to aid the Contras, and
ex-CIA boss Bush said he did not know that ex-CIA agent Rodriguez was
involved at all with the Contras, although his staff had been in
contact with him at least a dozen times. Telephone records from
the house that Rodriguez used in El Salvador revealed he had also been
in touch with Lt. Col. Oliver North at the White House.
Downed crewman Hasenfus had also mentioned that there was another Cuban
exile named "Ramón Medina" who worked closely with "Max
Gomez." Ramón Medina, also a phony name, turned out to be
another old buddy of Jorge Mas, Luis Posada. Having somehow
acquired about $28,600 to bribe his way out of that Venezuelan jail
where he had been held with Orlando Bosch for bombing the Cubana
airplane, Posada had been stashed away at various South American
locations and supported by Miami exile friends until he somehow found a
job with his old CIA associate Rodriguez. It's a small world.
There's an interesting spin that was later put on all this by Rodriguez
himself when he published his "autobiography," Shadow
Warrior. Rodriguez says that after he retired from the CIA
in 1976 (having been given the Agency's highest honor, the Intelligence
Star for Valor, mainly for having helped capture and eliminate Che
Guevara), he was sitting around getting angry watching Castro "aiding
and abetting antidemocratic insurgencies" in Latin America. So he
began creating his own "counterinsurgency plan," featuring the liberal
use of bombers and helicopter gunships and, as he put it, "the best
elements of what I learned in Vietnam." Then, through his
contacts in the U.S. government, he tried to sell himself and his plan
to certain Latin American countries. He admits he was helped by
his old Vietnam boss, Donald Gregg, and was introduced to Ollie North,
who helped him make contact with the Salvadoran government to work as a
"consultant." His point is that he never got orders from Bush
adviser Gregg, he just kept Gregg advised. ("When I told Don Gregg of
the progress I was making, he was delighted.") Truth is hard to
come by amid all the book's mirror images, but Rodriguez does neglect
to mention that when Hasenfus' plane went down, Vice President Bush's
office was one of the first in Washington to learn of the crash.
It received a call from Felix Rodriguez.
It is important now that the nature of Jorge Mas' relationships with
Felix Rodriguez and Luis Posada appear inconsequential. In fact,
there was an intensive exchange of information about what was happening
at the Ilopango arms supply operation. Records indicate, for
instance, that Posada made a number of calls from his San Salvador
safe-house telephone to Miami. In addition to calling his wife,
Posada was in touch with Dr. Alberto Hernandez, one of the members of
the Cuban American National Foundation closest to Mas.
The connection between Rodriguez and Mas is also very tight. In
his book, Rodriguez mentions Mas only twice, calls him a "longtime
friend" from whom he refused the offer of a lawyer at his congressional
hearing. That only hints at the nature of their alliance. A
freelance pilot who had also worked out of Ilopango recently ran into
Rodriguez at the Solder of Fortune convention in Orlando. That's
sponsored by Soldier of Fortune Magazine, the bible of gung-ho
mercenaries published by ex-Army Captain Bob Brown, a veteran of the
intelligence community. In the pilot's conversation with
Rodriguez, Jorge Mas' name came up. Rodriguez mentioned that TV's
60 Minutes was working on a feature about Mas. "Felix looked at
his watch," the pilot recalls, "and said, 'In fact, Jorge is probably
doing the interview right now." Mas is extremely security
conscious, few people know his movements in advance. That
Rodriguez should know what Mas was doing at a particular minute on a
particular day says something about their relationship.
"I saw Felix come into our offices in Miami many times," says a former
business associate of Mas. "I thought he was weird, with his black
gloves and his briefcase, but whenever anyone asked Mas who he was, Mas
would say, 'Oh, that's the guy who killed Che Guevara.'"
From the moment it began its grand crusade to turn back the spreading
plague of Communism in Latin America, the Reagan Administration
considered the Cuban American National Foundation one of the major
weapons in its Project Democracy arsenal. "The Foundation became
very much involved in the Contra effort," remembers former founding
director Raul Masvidal, who also recalled the weekly inside
briefings. "There was no question there was some kind of
intelligence link. That's when Mas developed the theme, 'The road
to Havana goes through Managua.' He kept repeating it until we
actually started to believe that in order to overthrow Castro we had to
first join forces with the Contras."
Mas himself began taking frequent trips to Ilopango. He didn't
keep it a secret within his circle. An associate who still works
with him has direct knowledge: "I heard a conversation about arms
dealing with Salvador for weapons to be transferred to Ilopango and
then to the Contras. I witnessed that."
Not all the Foundation members were in favor of the involvement,
Masvidal among them. "I remember Jorge clearly trying to convince
me when I started protesting that we were getting involved too much in
issues that were not related to Cuba and that I felt we were being
used. And when I voiced that, Jorge immediately called me a
traitor, called me every name in the book. When I took opposition
to him, Jorge felt I was betraying the whole effort. But there
was no question that Jorge was making promises to Washington.
'Oh, you want this? I'll deliver it. You want that?
I'll deliver it.' It was part of the CIA's way of masking or
getting around the law and Jorge and the Foundation were a part of it."
One of the mysteries that congressional investigators were not able to
solve was the presence of Luis Posada with Felix Rodrigues in
Ilopango. How did the international fugitive get there? Was
he sprung from his Venezuelan prison specifically to get involved in
the illegal Contra arms network? Investigators couldn't ask
Posada because as soon as his name emerged he had disappeared.
(It was later learned that he was running a clandestine security force
for Guatemala president Vincio Cerezo, but after a bloody attempt on
his life, he fled again into hiding, where he still is.)
Rodriguez danced around the questions with investigators. In his
book, he acknowledges knowing about Posada's jail break and giving him
a job at Ilopango after being "contacted by an individual who explained
Posada's predicament." He says he told neither his resupply crews
nor Oliver North the real name of "Ramón Medina." And, he
pointedly notes, "I certainly didn't mention anything to [George Bush's
aide] Don Gregg."
Jorge Mas has publicly denied he was involved in either helping Posada
escape or getting him the job at Ilopango. Among his Foundation
friends, however, he has not been reticent. More than one past
member as well as a present associate claim Mas talked about both
playing a role in raising the money to finance Posada's escape and in
helping the fugitive get his job with the illegal supply network.
A former vice president of the Foundation, Jose Luis Rodriguez, is more
specific. He admits he was both solicited for and contributed to
the fund to provide Posada the money to bribe his way out of the
Venezuelan jail. The matter, he says, was first brought up at the
same board meeting at the Breakers Hotel where USIA boss Charles Wick
was a guest. Mas immediately ruled that it was an "inappropriate"
time to discuss it. Subsequently, it was done more
privately. As a reminder of his contribution, Rodriguez has a
painting which Posada did while in jail. It's of a beautiful
palomino horse running free.
(José Rodriguez, by the way, claims his split with the
Foundation came after Mas' assertion of power forced out respected
executive director, Frank Calzon. He said he was asked to help
spread personal rumors about Calzon, and that disgusted him.
Rodriguez says resigning was considered an act of disloyalty and the
inside clique of directors, with whom he was in on a number of major
business ventures, began short-changing him on the deals. He
claims Mas uses his Foundation connections for personal financial
aggrandizement, parlaying business deals with his inside clique into
millions of dollars. A private investigation has linked Mas to
more than 36 different corporations.)
Although Jorge Mas' extremely close relationship with both Felix
Rodriguez and Luis Posada indicates his intimate knowledge of the
illegal Contra arms supply network and its White House overseers, the
hardest evidence that he was directly involved in it comes straight
from the guy who held the strings, Ollie North. In his notebooks,
North jotted cryptic notes revealing Jorge Mas' role in Project
Democracy. Among them are indications that Mas served as an
intermediary to the leaders of certain Latin American countries to
pressure them to support the project.
Some entries were very specific: On January 28, 1985, North
wrote: "Felix Rodriquez – Expedite 50K for I.R." Below it is the
notation, "Jorge Mas". Another entry noted, "Mtg. w/Felix
Rodriguez -- Call Jorge Mas." Included in North's notes were five
different telephone numbers for Mas, including his private line at home.
That direct operational contact with the man supervising the
Administration's illegal arms supply system, along with the working
relationship with his close buddies on the line at Ilopango, gives Mas
the knowledge that provides him his own special leverage with the Bush
"Without a doubt," says former associate Raul Masvidal. He
repeats it. "Without a doubt. No question that Jorge has
been in meetings with Bush at the White House and with Bush's people
when Bush was Vice President. I know because I was around him at
the time and I heard him talk about it."
Perhaps the most insightful comment comes from Luis Posada, of all
people. Posada had a secret meeting with Herald reporter
Christopher Marquis after he was exposed and fled the Contra
operation. Posada is tired and maimed from the attack on him in
Guatemala and he's trying to refurbish his image so he can return to
his wife and family in Miami. He gave Marquis a lengthy
interview. He had been in hiding for a while and probably didn't
realize he was contradicting his old friends, Rodriguez and Mas.
Posada said Donald Gregg, national security adviser to Vice President
George Bush, took a direct interest in the Contra supply project and
helped with staffing problems. When Marquis pointed out that both
Bush and Reagan had denied any involvement in the affair, Posada, the
battle-scarred CIA veteran, said: "Listen to me. The CIA
had bases in Aguacate [Honduras] and at Ilopango. We saw them
every day. Now, are you telling me that the President of the
United States didn't know about this?"
The bottom line is this: Jorge Mas has used the leverage his
involvement and knowledge has given him to maintain a strangle hold on
United States foreign policy in Latin America and Cuba. Right
now, when world political cataclysms demand a complete reassessment of
the United States' historically unproductive relationship with Cuba --
a relationship that has provided Fidel Castro with the Looming Boogie
Man threat he has used to rally internal support for 33 years -- Jorge
Mas has forced the issues to be defined in his terms, dictated the
boundaries of the conflicts and manipulated their resolution to meet
his personal political agenda. A bill that is now passing through
Congress is a dramatic example of Mas' power to call the shots at every
level of the U.S. government.
Magically entitled "The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992," the House bill
was introduced by a liberal New Jersey Democrat, Robert Torricelli, for
whom re-districting now means counting on the votes and money of North
Jersey's Cuban exile community. Torricelli's bill would tighten
the embargo that the U.S. declared against Cuba 29 years ago. Its
features include prohibiting trade with Cuba by the subsidiaries of
American corporations based abroad; prohibiting U.S. firms from taking
tax deductions for expenses related to its subsidiary trade with Cuba;
and restricting foreign ships that trade at Cuban ports from visiting
The bill is Torricelli's baby but Jorge Mas is its Godfather. It
was seeded in Torricelli a year ago when he cruised Florida's Biscayne
Bay aboard a luxury yacht with a dozen of Mas' wealthy exile
friends. Shortly after taking over the Western Hemisphere
subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Torricelli
declared he would focus on Castro. His second edict, according to
a former aide, was: "Whatever the Foundation wants, the Foundation
gets." When Mas was invited to testify before the
subcommittee last year and he refused to sit on the same panel with
more liberal Cuban exiles, Torricelli ordered a second panel created
for Mas -- an unprecedented perk for a Congressional witness. But
Mas never forgets a friend. By late last spring, he and his
pals had already kicked in more than $10,000 to Torricelli's campaign
The Torricelli bill was a near reductio ad absurdum of the United
State's historic big- stick-no-carrots economic policy towards
Cuba. Former diplomat Wayne Smith viewed the Torricelli bill as
more than a heavier stick, he saw it as "a blunderbuss aimed squarely
at our own feet." For some, it made little moral sense to inflict
further suffering on the Cuban people in an attempt to topple a tyrant,
especially when we were courting despots in North Korea and Vietnam and
opening Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets off Tiananmen Square.
However, the bill appeared to have little chance of getting endorsed by
the Bush Administration. The State Department was strongly
against it. "It's self-destructive," said a Cuban desk
officer. "The ban on subsidiary trade provokes our allies."
And it did. The British Foreign Trade Secretary bitingly noted,
"It is for the British government, not the U.S. Congress, to determine
the U.K.'s policy on trade with Cuba." Canada also voiced its
objection. The European Community sent a démarche announcing
that the EC would not accept "the extraterritorial extension of U.S.
jurisdiction," declared the bill in conflict with international law and
said its economic disincentives would be "Draconian." No way that
Bush could back a bill that produced such hostile reaction from both
within his own Administration and among necessary allies.
But Jorge Mas hadn't yet unsheathed his political muscle. While
everyone else was viewing the bill as a foreign policy issue, Mas also
saw it as an opportunity to advance his personal domestic
political agenda. After all, there just might be a new
President next year and it was never too early to work both sides of
the street -- especially when you knew you already had one side in your
The debates on the Torricelli bill in various committee and
subcommittee hearings have produced, and will continue to produce,
thousands of inches of newspaper stories, essays and opposing columns
as it moves through the legislative process. But the biggest
headlines about it have already been printed.
Last April, Bill Clinton pulled a surprise raid on the hottest
political turf in the country for Reagan-Bush, Miami's Little
Havana. Blasted the Herald's front page headline: CLINTON
BACKS TORRICELLI BILL: 'I LIKE IT,' HE TELLS CUBAN EXILES. That
afternoon, at a fundraiser at Victor's Café, he pulled in
$125,000. Earlier in the day, at a private party heavy with
Hispanic donors in the Colonnade Hotel, he picked up another
$150,000. A month later, on Cuban Independence Day, he returned
and was handed $100,000 by four Cuban American businessmen.
After that, President Bush was a patsy for Mas. Having previously
said he had "problems" with the Torricelli bill, Bush grabbed back the
headlines with a declaration that would, by Executive Order, implement
a new policy that was sneakingly similar to a provision in the
bill. The order would restrict further shipping to Cuba by
prohibiting entry into U.S. ports by vessels that engage in trade with
Bush's State Department, which had been vehemently against trade
restrictions, kept diplomatically silent. Off the record, one
official admitted to a Herald reporter, "We're bending over on this and
Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer also spoke with insiders at State:
"State Department officials admit that Mr. Mas' Foundation...has been
responsible for the fact that the United States has basically
formulated no policy of its own toward Cuba because of fear of the
Foundation's tactics.... To say that U.S. policy on Cuba at this
crucial moment -- when the next and defining stage of Cuban history is
being formed -- is thus being run by a bunch of nuts and ambitious
egomaniacs is not too far from the truth."
Sticks and stones may break his bones, but Georgie Anne Geyers' words
couldn't wipe the smile off Jorge Mas' face. Didn't she realize
what it was really all about? Didn't she realize the whole
Torricelli bill controversy, the maneuvering to get Bill Clinton to
back it, the display of muscle that forced President Bush to do a
perfect backflip -- all of it was a message to Fidel Castro. It
was to show him, after all these years, who still calls the shots here
in Cuba America. Jorge Mas has taught that lesson more than one
Jorge Mas smiles. I have cornered him again, this time in the
huge ballroom at the Radisson Mart Hotel near the Miami airport.
He has just pulled off a beautiful stunt. He has gotten David
Lawrence, the publisher of The Miami Herald, to shake hands with him
immediately after he sucker-punched him. Poor Lawrence was too
stunned to realize what was happening, and too much of a gentleman to
tell Mas to go screw himself. Besides, for the sake of his
newspaper, Lawrence was just happy the war was over and the hatchet had
been buried -- even if it was in his own head.
"Now that you've made a peace agreement," I asked Mas, "Do you think David Lawrence understands you?"
Mas had to smile. He knew what I meant. "No," he said,
quickly hiding his grin and diverting his answer to a brief speech
about how his battle with the Herald would now result in it being more
sensitive to the interests of the Cuban-American community. Mas
knew that's not what my question was about. I wanted to know
whether he thought that Lawrence, a big, bespectacled, preppy-type
fellow with a pleasant smile and likely a good grasp of the Marquis of
Queensberry rules, realized he had been beaten and bloodied by a
battling bantam who knew only fingers-in-the-eyes, knees-to-the-balls
gutter brawling, a street tough he should have avoided in the first
place. Of course, poor Dave still didn't realize that. He
might not have shown up for this staged "peace" encounter if he had.
The charity chiefs in the local Easter Seal Society had come up with
the notion of having a fund-raising "Community Unity" luncheon, which
wasn't a bad concept in itself. Miami is disparity
urbanized. But the plan to get Jorge Mas Canosa and David
Lawrence Jr. to stand before a few hundred major players in town, shake
hands and announce for the sake of community unity they really loved
each other and wouldn't fight no more, well, that could have used more
Mas set Lawrence up good. On his way into the crowded ballroom
Mas stopped and announced to reporters that the Cuban American National
Foundation was calling off its campaign against The Miami Herald and
its sister Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Herald. "For the good
of the community," he said. So everyone thought that the major
event, following a few brief fund-raising spiels for the Easter Seal
Society, would come off as planned, with both Mas and Lawrence saying
nice things about each other, gentlemanly refraining from declarations
of victory, shaking hands and living happily ever after. An
Easter Seals coup for community unity.
Mas was first. Later he would say he misunderstood the
format. He said he thought it was to be a mutual "roast," a
humorous, verbal jabbing exhibition just for the entertainment of the
crowd. Jab, hell, Mas started with kidney punches. He said
Lawrence didn't realize what a major feud he was starting when he
picked on the Cuban American community "Let's face it, Dave," he
taunted, "you never expected it." He implied that Lawrence was a
wimp, not enough of a man to put up a tough fight. He ridiculed
the publisher's attempts during the dispute to deal directly with
Miami's Cuban community. "And there you were, Dave, on Cuban
television trying to speak Spanish and looking like a scared deer
caught in a truck's headlights." He also noted that Lawrence's
Spanish was so atrocious he might as well have used sign language.
This was a peace meet? Lawrence appeared numb but turned his
gentlemanly cheek. When his turn came, he acted as if he hadn't
been sitting there when Mas was pummeling him. He spoke only
about how the Easter Seal Society had once helped his son, now a
lawyer, to overcome a childhood disability. Then, when he was
finished, Mas rose again and, magnanimous now, declared Lawrence
a worthy adversary whom he personally respected. Lawrence
appeared dazed as Mas walked over, shook his hand for the cameras and
formally announced the end of the Cuban American National Foundation's
battle with The Herald. Then, like a light slap of his glove and
simply as a final reminder of who still called the shots, Mas added,
"For the time being." And as he raised his arms in victory before
turning to leave, the cavernous ballroom seemed to fill with the misty
echoes of a far away chant that came floating across the waters of the
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